Welcome to the 'In Character' Blog

Hello there. I'm Elizabeth Blair, and given the nature of this project, I thought I'd introduce myself by way of my two favorite fictional characters. At the moment they are:

Cookie Monster with a bowl of fruit

Cookie Monster: Such a pop-culture phenom that he made headlines when he confessed to varying his diet now and then. Theo Wargo, Sesame Workshop hide caption

toggle caption Theo Wargo, Sesame Workshop

(1) Cookie Monster, thanks to my soon-to-be 3-year-old son, Ben; and (2) Achilles, thanks to Bill Mullen. He's a classics professor at Bard College; I interviewed him for today's All Things Considered story introducing the In Character series.

Why these two? Well, Cookie Monster because he's clear about what he wants.

Achilles because, as Mullen explains it, the raging soldier of Greek myth has a lot to teach us about the psychological trauma of war. There's even a psychiatrist in Boston, Dr. Jonathan Shay, who uses Achilles to help combat veterans heal.

(One note: Achilles, obviously, isn't American — which is one of the criteria for the characters we'll examine throughout this series. But in this first radio piece, I explore the building blocks of a great character. I also wanted to point out that fictional characters have illuminated human behavior in profound ways for centuries.)

Brad Pitt as Achilles in the 2004 film 'Troy'

Achilles: Yep, we know he's not American. (Though hey, at least Brad Pitt is.) But we're not rule-bending, we're framing the debate: Unforgettable characters have been around for millennia. And like all truly indelible characters, Achilles has a tragic flaw -- which helps him teach us something about what it means to be human. Warner Bros. Pictures hide caption

toggle caption Warner Bros. Pictures

Now, Achilles and Cookie Monster might not seem like they have anything in common. But in a way, that's the point: They're a reflection of the range of characters we'll hear from and hear about in the In Character series.

Back to introductions, though: I'm a senior producer, reporter, editor, etc. on the arts desk at NPR. In Character is an extension of two other series I worked on: The NPR 100, which explored American musical works of the 20th century, and Present at the Creation, which examined a range of Americana — from the pinup to the expression "OK."

Among the things I'm looking forward to about In Character are the debates we're sure to have about whether a particular character is really important. It'll also be interesting to hear about different interpretations of the same figure. Can't wait to hear yours.

Another introduction: Trey Graham, my fellow blogger on this project. He's an arts journalist working in NPR's Digital Media shop, and a theater critic for both the local PBS affiliate and the local alt-weekly newspaper here in Washington, D.C.

Both of us are excited about In Character. And both of us want you to let us know about your own favorite American characters.

Just remember, we're talking about fictional characters, not the real-life characters we all know — however entertaining their antics may be.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

I would like to start off by saying that I really appreciate the creation of this series. I do have a couple of questions though.

First, are we allowed to nominate more than one character? I already sent in one nomination, but I easily have two or three other characters that I would love to bring up for discussion with the community following this topic.

Second, are we restricted to only "American" fictional characters, or can we bring in fictional characters born in other countries, such as Japan or England?

Regardless of the answers to these questions, I will be looking forward to the next installment of this series and blog.

Sent by Christina Rivera | 12:23 PM | 1-2-2008

Cool idea.

To be clear, the characters need to be American, but the author does not?

Any genre -- drama, fiction, poetry, visual art, and, I assume, television -- is fair fodder?

I have a soft spot for Nancy Drew.

Sent by Callie Kimball | 5:06 PM | 1-2-2008

L.I. Wilder, both the author and the literary character, was the most influential of my childhood and I live now, at age 44, much in the way she did over 100 years ago on the American "frontier." Her "Little House" series has been in continuous print, in many languages, since first published in 1931. The words "frontier woman," "naturalist" and early "feminist" come to mind, but primarily L.I. represents a young woman who both embraced and expressed a healthy balance of the Masculine and Feminine essence/archetype/behavior that reside in us all. A crucial balance rarely represented in influential juvenile literature.

Sent by Wendy Parker | 4:23 PM | 1-3-2008

I just heard about this series this morning on NPR. What a great idea! Thanks. I look forward to upcoming entries in this series and discussions on the blog.

Of course, one of my favorites has already been covered...Bugs Bunny. I think I learned my own sense of humor & even an appreciation for classical music from Bugs. And at the age of 50, Bugs can still send tears of laughter running down my face!

So now, I'll have to go back and consider what other characters have had the influence of Bugs....

Sent by Ken Bechtel | 10:51 AM | 1-6-2008

"Stand up, Miss Finch, your father's passing". Scout and those in the balconey rose as Atticus, weary and unaware walked past. He was no superhero. His trigger finger flinched and his glasses slipped but he brought courage and conviction to his community. My wish is that we could all be more like him.

Sent by Steve Seivers | 11:25 AM | 1-29-2008

Cookie monster is awesome! I can make him some sugar cookies if he wants!

Sent by Riley | 11:54 AM | 2-17-2008

Howard Roark, the central charactor in The Fountainhead by Ayan Rand. His idealism and staunch refusal to bend to the pressures of business and power have shaped my life for 40 years. I just wish I had his courage.

Sent by Fred Asbury | 12:12 PM | 2-17-2008


NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from